True Appreciation

As most of you know, I've spent the lion's share of my free time for the past few months organizing the charity fundraiser for the Serenity fan table at ComicCon, to benefit Equality Now. My journal-silence since the event is definitely not due to a lack of things to say. No, I'm still hard at work, tracking down all the prize winners, mailing out tons of packages, updating the website, and trying to make my living room look less like a shipping/receiving dock before Sarah gets here this weekend.

I can honestly say that I have not worked this hard on any personal project, ever before. It has been a hell of a ride, getting to know so many generous browncoats and fans, as well as a few of the Big Damn Heroes, and working my ass off to make sure we could raise as much as possible for Equality Now. It was a uniquely exhausting experience, but also one that was more personally fulfilling than anything I've done in the past ten years (except maybe Noelle & Lewis' wedding). Every day I go to work and slave away at the code mines, working on projects that I have varying degrees of faith in. But it really felt good to go back to my roots and get my hands dirty with some grass roots charity work, like my mother used to do. It was truly a labor of love.

I had a real sense of accomplishment on the drive back from ComicCon. And when I called Mandy at Equality Now to tell her that we had raised over $12,000 for them, the stunned silence was heart-warming. It wasn't just a drop in the bucket like the $2000 we raised for Red Cross at WonderCon - these folks were blown away by what we accomplished on their behalf, and were grateful beyond words. So regardless of any bits of drama that might have taken place at the con, or the bags under my eyes from so much hard work, I'm really glad that I volunteered to run this fundraiser!

But wait, it gets better! Now that I have the website (mostly) updated, including the amount we raised, someone posted a link to it on Whedonesque (a community blog for all-things-Joss). And who should respond but the Big Damn Hero himself!

Joss Whedon's comment on our Equality Now fundraiser!

There's no way I'm not weighing in on this one.

I am SO proud and grateful that this is where the energy of the Browncoats is going. Buffy and Angel fans have always distinguished themselves through their altruism, but this hits close to home in a way probably none of you know.

My mother started what I believe was the first high school chapter of Amnesty International. She was a history teacher, and started a feminism course as well (she also directed plays -- not so much the slacker). Probably her favorite student (and she had many that she loved) was Jessica Neuwirth. Jessica went on to work as a lawyer for Amnesty International and then started Equality Now, which used the Amnesty model to combat gender-based offenses. Jessica is as kind, intelligent and dedicated as anyone I've ever known (and would probably cringe to read any of this.) The idea that my work is on a wavelength with Equality Now's agenda is as gratifying as anything I could wish for. But for the fans to take an active role in helping out this under-recognized cause, and on such a grand scale... it means more than I can say. I have said, in point of fact, much more than I usually would in this forum, but I can't contain my appreciation. My mother would have been so pleased.

There are two ways to fight a battle like ours. One is to whisper in the ear of the masses, try subtly and gradually to change the gender expectations and mythic structures of our culture. That's me. The other is to step up and confront the thousands of atrocities that are taking place around the world on an immediate, one-by-one basis. That's a great deal harder, and that's Equality Now. It's not about politics; it's about basic human decency. And it's more important than... well, than that movie I keep telling everyone to see.

Thank you to the tireless Browncoats and everyone who donated, bid or lifted a finger to raise this money, for making my work mean more than it ever did, even to me.


As you can imagine, reading this totally made my day! (And got me a little misty-eyed, I must admit.) But like Joss, I have to give credit where credit is due. Without one very important person, volunteering to run a charity fundraiser never would have occurred to me, and I wouldn't have had any idea how to do it in the first place. That person is my mother: Shirl Markus.

When I was in Junior High, I told my mom that my friend Katy Surritt (my first crush, actually) was no longer at school, because she had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Several years before, my older brother's best friend had died of Leukemia, so this really caught my mom's attention. Immediately, she got in touch with Katy's mom Patty and began organizing a surprise party for Katy. A few weeks later, Katy was picked up in a limo and brought to a Lion's Hall packed with all her school friends that she hadn't seen in months.

But that was just the beginning. My mom has always been big on organizing charity drives. When my brother was in the military during the first Gulf War, she organized a mass-baking circle, and had at least one dozen cookies sent to every single sailor on my brother's ship. So she switched into high gear and started hitting up all sorts of local merchants and businesses for prize donations, and then blanketed the town with fliers and went door-to-door to every business in town, getting people to buy raffle tickets. Not long after, she had a nice fat check (in the neighborhood of $4,000, I think) for Katy and her family, to help defray the medical expenses, as well as a second, smaller-but-still-sizable check that was strictly to be used for going out and doing something fun.

I've learned a lot from my mom over the years. Chief among them is that when you see someone in need, you need to step up and do your part to help. She taught me everything I know about evangelizing Good Works, convincing people to part with their money for a worthy cause, and how the small sacrifices of many can add up to an amazingly beneficial outcome in the end. One of my favorite things about this whole experience is that it has reminded me just how proud I am (and have always been) of my mother, and how grateful I am to have her as a role model.

I love you, mom.

[By the way, Katy has been in 100% remission for close to two decades now, and is the proud mother of a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I'm convinced that she was just too damned stubborn to die. But I think it's safe to say that the love and support she got from my mom and the rest of the community as a result probably didn't hurt, either.]

It just keeps getting better…

Ok, get this! We got in touch with Shawna Trpcic, who was the costume designer for Firefly. We were going to see if she'd donate a costume sketch and maybe a swatch of fabric from one of Inara's dresses, or something. Instead, she's going to let us come over and choose any one item out of her personal collection. Like maybe the entire suit that Atherton Wing wore in Shindig! Or maybe something even cooler.

Can you believe the generosity in a donation like this? Or how much it's going to bring in for the charity drive?? Between this, Jewel Staite's voice on your answering machine, and the fact that we haven't even heard back yet from half of the crew, my mind boggles at the list of prizes we'll have by the time we get to the con!

Plus, the added bonus is that I now have an excuse to make a trip to LA soon, to pick out a costume. Which means I'll get to swing by and visit a certain lovely lady along the way. It's good to be me! :) – ComicCon Fan Table and Charity Drive

You've heard about the shiny little fan table the SF Browncoats ran at WonderCon. You've heard about how they raised $2000 to benefit the Red Cross Tsunami Relief Effort. And you've heard rumors that they're working on another fan table and charity drive at ComicCon that's supposed to blow the WonderCon thing out of the water.

But where's the website? When do we you get to find out what we're planning for the con? Where's the sign up list for volunteering? Where's the info on the charity we're going to be benefiting this time around? And where is that frelling prize list we keep hearing about, gorramit!??

Fear not, fellow Browncoats! The time has come for the great unveiling!!

What will you find here?

  1. Info on the SF Browncoats, and all the wacky things we've been up to.

  2. We're hosting the largest-ever Firefly fan table at ComicCon. Find out what we'll be up to, what kinds of schwag we'll have, and how you can become a part of it all.

  3. There's going to be a massive charity drive to donate Equality Now (one of Joss's favorite charities). Browncoats from around the world will be able to donate at the con. And we're accepting online donations too, so even those who aren't lucky enough to be at the con can get help us make the biggest Browncoats charity drive ever!

  4. Prizes!! Everyone who donates (at the con or online) will be entered into a huge drawing for thank you prizes. We're just starting to get the prizes together, but we already have an amazing list of shiny trinkets for you to ooh and awe over. And there will be more prizes added between now and the con, as we hit up more generous Browncoats and continue to get things handed to us out of the blue (did we mention the iPod Shuffle?!).

So check it out. Tell all your friends. Give in to your temptation to join us at ComicCon. Take a look around and see if you have anything you'd like to donate as a prize. And, most important, scrape together every last penny you can afford, and help us show the good folks at Equality Now just how mighty Browncoat generosity can be!! :)


[Also, if you catch any typos or broken links, send me an email off-list and I'll fix 'em up right.]

Writer’s Block

My life lately has been consumed with two things: my project at work, and the charity fundraiser I'm helping organize for ComicCon. The deadline for the first is fast approaching, and I'm terrified that I might be forgetting something. And the other is kind of flying in a holding pattern while the paranoid side of my brain refuses to let me concentrate on anything important.

At WonderCon, Miyu single handedly put together a last minute fan table and charity raffle, and raised over $2000 for the Red Cross. I had a blast hawking tickets, and even gave up my opportunity to attend the signing (Nathan, Adam, Summer, and Joss were there) to remain at the table and pimp the charity. So when Miyu mentioned the idea of doing another charity drive at ComicCon, I was interested.

Of course, I had no real intention of going to ComicCon at that point. It's an awful lot of money to spend on a weekend trip to a town I've already been to. But when I read about the charity she had chosen, Equality Now, my perspective changed. I rarely do anything interesting with my vacation time. And while I do still intend to save up a few weeks to spend in Italy next summer, I can't think of a more fulfilling way to spend a few days vacation than hanging out with geeks and using my vast capitalistic powers to benefit a worthy cause.

Lets do the math. WonderCon was a decent sized con, but nothing huge. And it was just Miyu organizing everything, last minute. And we raised $2000. ComicCon is ten times the size. It's frikkin huge. We have two months to plan. Several of the cast helped last time, and we have plenty of leads on getting them involved again. We haven't even really tried to start getting prize donation, and we've already got some amazingly cool stuff (the generosity of my friends never ceases to amaze me). Plus, we're going to be accepting donations online, so those who can't make it to the con (including a slew of UK and Aussie Browncoats) can get in on the prize drawing. Just imagine what kind of good Equality Now could do with the money we could potentially raise here.

I've been so slammed at work lately that I haven't had a chance to really get started. I have a list of contacts I need to write to, and a mental list of other people I want to badger for donations. And that's not even touching on the suggestions my mom has given me. But now that work is finally getting sane again, I can get down to business.

The first step, of course, is finishing the website, so I have somewhere to point people for all of the relevant info on the group, the con, the charity, and the ever-growing prize list (yes, I am perfectly comfortable with using people's greed to get them to do good - hehe). But for some reason I just can't get started. I have the outline for the site done, and all the pages are where they need to be. But not a word of content has been written.

The longer I stare at the blank page, the harder it is for me to find a place to start. Which is ironic, considering how hard it is to get me to shut up once I've started writing. I think something is bothering me at a metaphorical level lately. And until I can figure out what it is, it's going to continue to smack me down any time I try to concentrate on anything important.

Frikkin' metaphors. Nasty little creatures...

A virus for the what??

I can't believe it. Someone finally managed to write a virus for the WebTV...

WebTV Virus Writer Sentenced to Prison

Of course, what I find particularly amusing about this is the nature of the virus. Basically, it just reset the box's dialing script to dial 911 instead of the local access number. That in itself is not funny. But remembering how many times the Palo Alto (and then Mountain View) officials had to come to the WebTV campus for accidental 911 calls, back in the old days, makes me wonder that the whole QA staff isn't in lockup on precedent.

You see, when a WebTV box downloads its list of local access numbers, it makes its best guess as to what format the number should be dialed in (seven-digit, 10 digit with area code, 11 digit with one then the area code - I've even seen some bass ackwards places that require one then the number, with no area code - weirdos). But since this formula is not foolproof, it also lets you edit your own custom dialing options. You can tell your box to dial a nine to get an outside line (useful if you're on a PBX, like a hotel or a business), force it to dial a one when calling, and other nifty options.

The trouble is that if you have it set to dial a nine to get out and always dial a one... what happens when your local provider goes away and is replaced with a long distance provider, or a 1-800 number. Instead of dialing 9,1,5551234, you're suddenly calling something like 9,1,18004093288. Which results in the call being placed to 911, and the operator getting nothing but modem screeches in their ear.

The difference, of course, is that this guy did it intentionally, and we always did it accidentally. But man, the folks at the 911 switchboard must have hated us after a while. I'm just glad that our building never had a major disaster, since any call placed to 911 from our PBX probably would have been bumped to the bottom of the queue, under the assumption that it was just those damned WebTV people screwing with their dialing scripts again.

WonderCon 2005 – A Summary

This weekend, I went to WonderCon, at Moscone Center. The first thing I noticed as I entered the con was that they had some serious con security. I had barely found the Firefly fan table when the rest of the Browncoats started showing up. Miyu, of course, was already there and hard at work. Much to my delight, Rosie and Tamara, who we met in Chicago at the Browncoat Ball, were there. And I got to meet Saxon, and several others who I had seen on the boards.

The first thing most of us did was to head over to the autograph line. They had a gigantic line that you had to wait in just to pick tickets out of a series of buckets, one for each autograph session. If you got a winning ticket, you got the arm band to attend the autograph session. There were five buckets, I think. One was for the Firefly cast (Nathan, Adam and Summer), one was for Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, and the others... ah, who cares. I was hoping to get the Firefly cast, but I got Joss & Cassaday, so that was still pretty cool.

While we were waiting in line, I got to hang out with a bunch of the Browncoats, and had a great time chatting with them. And I kept noticing people pointing at me, since I was wearing a Mal outfit. Saxon's daughter said she was surprised I wasn't being mauled by women in that outfit, and I agreed that it was a frikkin' tragedy that I wasn't. :) Donna was in line with me, and kept catching me out of the corner of her eye and thinking that it was Nathan - even though she knew it was me (I later signed a postcard for her "Donna, I'm not Nathan. Love, Ray"). Oh, and I got an email from Tzegha while we were in line, which was primo timing.

The highlight of the day, of course, was the panel at which Joss, Nathan, Adam, and Summer spoke. Joss, Nathan and Adam are just as funny in person as people say, and they played off each other seamlessly. Summer was absolutely gorgeous. She seemed kind of nervous and shy, and didn't say much (with Nathan and Joss to compete with, it's no surprise she couldn't get a word in), but she was constantly striking these demure poses that were just downright adorable. Being a clever little monkey, I picked up one of those Griffin iTalk Voice Recorders for my iPod, and brought it with me so I could get an audio recording of the panel. Those who missed the con can check out the audio download and a cheat sheet for the visual cues.

Most of the rest of my day I spent manning the Firefly fan table. We were raffling off all sorts of Firefly schwag to benefit the Red Cross' Tsunami Relief. We had books, DVDs, t-shirts, signed photos, and the like. The t-shirts Alan asked about when he interrupted the panel on Nathan's cell phone were part of the raffle, too. And half way through the day, Nathan even sent over his own Serenity sweatshirt (complete with stain under the collar) and signed on the arm, for the drawing. Hawking the tickets was a blast. I haven't had that much fun hawking since I worked Inn Yard at the Blackpoint faire. It helped that the people I was hawking to were fellow browncoats, and that all the money was going to a good cause. I even bought $30 worth of tickets myself, in hopes of winning a deck of the custom Firefly cards (which Miyu made, and could have made a fortune if she were selling - everyone was asking if they were for sale).

Later in the day, Joss stopped by the booth. He was incredibly gracious, and stuck around chatting with us for a while. Before exiting the booth to be flooded by a hoard of fans, he shook all of our hands and very sincerely thanked us for all we (meaning all the fans, not just those at the table) have done to support him, and keep his show flying. We thanked him right back just as sincerely, and off he went to meet (more of) his adoring fans. Having already met Joss and not caring too much about autographs, I ended up taking the armband I won to see Joss and Cassaday, and told the crowd around the booth that the next person who bought $20 worth of raffle tickets would get the armband too. It took about ten seconds for someone to swipe that up, and it got more money for the cause, so I was happy.

Shortly before the raffle, I finally got away from the table and got a chance to see the Firefly fan room. Miyu arranged to have an entire room set aside for fans to gather in and watch Firefly episodes. It was amazing to see how packed the room was. Even with the quite a few Browncoats still on the convention floor and at the booth. there was standing room only in the room, which spilled out into the hall. It was great to see how many fans showed up for this!

Shortly before it was time for the raffle, Lil' Ewok ran out to the con floor to track down Joss (in the way only a teenling geek girl can), and brought him back to the room. Seeing him coming down the hall, we had them kill the projector, and told everyone who was coming. Joss comes in, sees Jubal Early's face frozen on the screen, and asks "what'ca watchin?" Joss then agreed to pull names for the raffle prizes, and then gave another very heartfelt thank you to the fans for sticking with the show through thick and thin. I also got an audio clip of Joss doing the raffle (5MB). The "hot" comment is when he's looking at a signed photo of Jewel Staite. When he says "this is very, very useful" he's referring to the giant bucket-o-cash that was the Red Cross raffle proceeds.

After the con, I gave Miyu a ride to the cafe where the after-hours shindig was going to be taking place, and then headed back to try and make it to the masquerade that was being held (and possibly to try and run into that cute girl dressed as Death ;) ). The masquerade was too packed, though, and they weren't letting anyone else in. So I just grabbed something to eat and headed back to the cafe.

Possibly one of my favorite parts of the weekend was getting to know some of the Oregon Browncoats. Erin was an absolute charmer, Kira was seriously cool, and Kira's boyfriend Steve handed my ass to me at the Ms. Pac-Man table, so he certainly earned my respect. I spent most of Sunday hanging out with Erin and her friend Bernadette. The three of us were there for the Starship Smackdown, which really deserves its own post. Suffice to say, though, it was quite an upset. In the history of Starship Smackdown, the only ship to ever win has been the original NCC-1701 Enterprise. But this year, Serenity and the Enterprise tied. Woohoo!!

WonderCon 2005 – The Serenity Panel

The premiere panel of WonderCon this year was undoubtedly the Serenity panel (and considering that they were followed by Kevin Smith, that's saying something!). Joss Whedon started the panel by bringing up John Cassaday to announce that they are going to be doing a second year of Astonishing X-men. Then he brought out Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Summer Glau (River), and Nathan Fillion (Mal) for a long Q&A session, and to show a clip from Serenity.

But don't take my word for it. Listen to it yourself. The first audio clip here is of Saxon & Rosie talking about their experiences on set as extras, which was basically just me testing to make sure the recorder was working. The second clip is a one hour long recording of the entire panel.

The following table provides cues to what's going on during the audio clip. Just match the time count on the clip to the row in the table and you'll get why people are laughing in several places. Warning: The audio clip and visual cues include the preview of Serenity.

Table hidden behind cut...

WonderCon 2005 – Starship Smackdown

Starship Smackdown is a brilliant concept. You get a panel of three uber-geek judges, moderator, and an audience-suggested list of 16 starships. Then you go through them, pair by pair, deciding which ships would defeat the others based on their benefits and weaknesses (loosely defined, of course). With the eclectic group of ships chosen, and the obscure and silly reasons that people give for why one ship would win against another, I'm absolutely kicking myself for not audio-recording it.

Apparently, though, in the entire history of Starship Smackdown, the only ship to ever win has been the original NCC-1701 Enterprise. This year, it came down to a tough showdown between the Enterprise and Serenity. One judge (who was calling in remotely via cell phone and drinking heavily) voted for Serenity (mainly due to the superior babeage). The second judge voted for a tie, convinced that after fighting for a bit, the two crews would eventually decide that they have nothing to fight over, and fly off into the sunset together. And the third judge stuck with his allegiance and voted for Enterprise.

With the number of Browncoats in the audience, if it had gone to an audience vote, Serenity would have stood a good chance of taking the crown. But instead, they let the audience decide if it should go to a showdown, or if the tie should stand. With only one dissenter, the landslide decision was to let the tie stand. Enterprise's dominance is shattered by our girl Serenity. Go Browncoats!

I'll probably add a play-by-play later, if there is interest. Some of the show-downs are classic.

A new year. A new chapter.

New Year's Eve has always been my favorite holiday. There's just something inherently satisfying about taking a moment to recognize the passing of time, and to reflect on the things you have accomplished, the changes you have gone though, and the challenges that remain to be faced. For the past month, I have been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this past year, and what I see for the year to come. Several aspects of my life were very much in flux throughout December and January, and I hadn't gotten a chance to completely internalize them yet. Finally, though, I am beginning to rise above the confusion.

The story so far, a look forward, and resolutions...

Drawing from the Hoard

In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, there is a leprechaun who teaches the main character how to pull gold coins out of the air. He explains that there exists a Hoard, from which you can merely pluck what you need. And when you are done with it, it vanishes, returning to the hoard from which it came.

When I made the decision last year to sell off most of my physical belongings to fund my job search, I kept this metaphor close to my chest. Yes, I was getting rid of every movie I owned, almost all of the collectibles I had gathered over the years, and even a good deal of the books that I had had for so long. But I was merely returning them to the Hoard, and would be able to retrieve them again when the time came. And now, as I get back on my feet financially and start to rebuild my collections, I do so knowing that anything I buy is merely snatched from the Hoard, and will eventually vanish back to its origin.

The other day, I was poking through CraigsList at work, and ran across a listing that caught my eye. It was a list of about 100 DVDs, priced at $8 each. The titles were largely high quality, and it was apparent that this was someone's personal collection. But the note at the bottom that read "will sell all for $300" confirmed my hunch that the man who posted it was doing the same thing I had done - returning his prized collection to the hoard, to cover his short term needs and retrieve it again later, when fortune permitted. I felt obliged to help him in his quest, as so many of you helped me by buying bits from my own collection when the need was great.

After doing the math, I determined that I could even turn enough of a profit to snatch back a few of my own lost items from the hoard while I'm at it. I stopped by his place after work, let him haggle me up to $360, and felt good when I saw the same sense of "oh good, that covers this month's rent" relief in his eyes that I experienced when my own collection was liquidated. I pulled out the 20 titles that I wanted for my own collection, and the result is a list of 80 DVDs that are ready to return to the Hoard.

On the practical side, I'll leave the list as is for the next few days so my friends can take dibs on whatever they want. Then I'll push the lot to (the Hoard incarnate, you could say) and let the free market redistribute this gentleman's collection to appreciative hands.

On the philosophical side, I think that many of us can learn a lesson from the Hoard. Which of your possessions are truly valuable to you, and could never be replaced? Which could you easily return to the Hoard for a few years and retrieve again later (or not at all) without really losing anything. How much would you even notice if it were to suddenly vanish from your bookshelf or closet?

And now that I think of it, I suppose the metaphor goes beyond physical goods as well. How much money can you afford to return to the Hoard, so those who have lost everything at the hands of nature's wrath can snatch it back in their time of need? How much time and thought can you spare to bring a smile to the face of someone who is in need of one? How much of your riches are really your own, and not just borrowed from the greater Hoard? And how much more valuable would that collective wealth be if everyone recognized its sacred status as a shared, liquid resource?

So, in the name of putting my money where my mouth is, I make this pledge. Any proceeds I get from selling this gentleman's collection (after recouping my initial investment) will be donated to the Red Cross. At the prices I have listed currently, that would come to a little over $150 (in addition to the $50 I had already ear-marked for the purpose).

What do you own that you wouldn't miss if you auctioned it off and put the proceeds to a worthy cause? It's an interesting question to ponder.

Lost and Found

[I'll write a full account of my first Burning Man experience later, when I've had time to rest, rehydrate and unpack. But I wanted to get this bit out while it still has meaning.]

I'm back from Burning Man. As expected, my first year of Burning Man was not the mind-blowingly positive experience that it is for most people. It was, however, exactly what I intended it to be: an opportunity to remove myself from the world and shake the hornet nest that is my mind, and see what demons really are behind my current woes, so I can begin to understand them.

I brought a lot with me to the playa: pain, anger, frustration, distrust, fear, and isolation. Some of that was left on the playa, and swept away in the ashes of the burn. Some remains to be dealt with. But what I left behind was replaced with something new. I do not have names for all of these yet, but I'm sure that will be revealed to me in time. But there are a few things I brought back which I can name.

The first is a fortune cookie that I was given at a little noodle house and bar on Venus, which read: "You must leave something behind to receive something new." I have been repeating this to myself in different tones since then, and have found not only that it is true now, but that it has also been true in the past. Some were left behind in order to purge myself of them, and some were left for safe keeping. I just need to bring a gift to leave behind in order to retrieve them.

Another thing that I brought back with me was a fifth question. I mentioned before the four questions which, if asked enough times, will eventually reveal a truth about you. And I also mentioned that different people live their lives by one of these questions or the other. But I missed one question. "What are you afraid of?" I am amazed at the variety of my answers so far. This question may be the key to unlocking my current riddle.

But one of the most valuable nuggets of wisdom that has been added to my arsenal I didn't receive until I returned from the playa and continued feeding my B5 addiction.

"I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe."
- Marcus Cole, Babylon 5: A Late Delivery from Avalon

One of my fundamental life philosophies is that you have to bend when the wind blows. When you brace against the wind and attempt to resist the laws of nature, you will shatter when the winds blow hard. But if you learn to ride the winds, there's no limit to how far you can fly.

Lately, I realize, I have not been bending. I have been trying too hard to make a stand and sink in new roots, and haven't been embracing the chaos that is inherent in the system. So when the chaos knocks on my door, it comes as a punishment instead of as a challenge. If I keep this up much longer, I will shatter. My first order of business should be remembering where I left that ability to dance gleefully in the winds of chaos, and what gift I must bring with me in order to retrieve it.

I think I know the answer to where I left it. And I'm pretty sure that M&Ms are the appropriate gift. But I might also need to retrieve a few more treasures as well, while I'm there. I'll wait a few more days to see if I get a call that could change the nature of this treasure hunt. If the call doesn't come in, I'll be on my way back to the wilderness to do some digging.

One possible answer

Something a friend wrote tonight jarred an old memory. I ran across this a few years ago, and thought it was beautiful, although it didn't answer any of the questions I was asking myself at the time. I'm not even sure it does now. But I feel compelled to share it, as I have a hunch it might resonate with one or two of you in the days to come.

The Invitation

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living,
I want to know what you ache for,
And if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are,
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon,
I want to know if you have touched the center of your sorrow,
If you have ever been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!
I want to know if you can sit with pain; mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,
If you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself,
If you can hear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul,
If you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even if it is not pretty everyday
And if you can source your own life from it's presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand
on the edge of the lake and shout to the sliver of the full moon, "Yes!"

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children,
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and like the company you keep in the empty moments.

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

What do you believe?

Do you believe in mystery? That there are tiny, almost imperceivable currents in your life that prevent you from being exposed to things before you're ready for them, and steer you toward them when the time is right?

Imagine that there is a book, or a movie, or a song that you have been dying to experience for ages, but for some reason or another never gotten around to. Years later, you're struggling with some philosophical dilemma, and you decide to pull it off the shelf to distract you from your quandary. And as it begins, you see every hidden detail of your mental chaos laid out in front of you in meaningful metaphors and pseudo-prophetic dialog.

Is there some invisible hand guiding your path? Shooing you away from metaphors that will not yet have meaning for you, and nudging you toward them when you are finally in need of the lessons they will bring? Or is the language of metaphors such that you will find meaning where you look for it, and would have found just as much meaning in another source, if your need was as great?

If there's one thing that I have learned in my service, it is fluency in metaphor. But being able to speak a language doesn't mean that one necessarily understands the physics of how sound is created and shaped into words, nor the esoteric inner workings of linguistic theory.

Nevertheless, I see the answers when I look for them. I have been asking a lot of questions over the past several months. But as my life seemed to be spiraling into chaos, I was too afraid to look for the answers to most of those questions. I wasn't sure I could handle them if they were as dark as I had feared.

Now that the worst of it is over and I am finally working on getting back on my feet, I have begun to indulge myself in looking for a few of the answers. And, as usual, the answers come in metaphor. They're in magazine articles, on DVDs, in music, in reflections, and even in unexpected software releases. I can see which way the wind is blowing, but can not yet tell if it is a breeze or a storm. If only I could quiet the fury inside, perhaps I could hear the messages more clearly.

What is the question you live your life by? What do you want? Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you going? Ask yourself these questions repeatedly, until all of your flippant surface responses are depleted and the truth begins to emerge. Which questions bring forth answers that make you feel whole? Which bring forth answers that make you fear yourself?

Which answers are you willing to die for? And, more importantly, which answers are you willing to live for?

Sifting Spam with Gmail

I have several domain names that I'm not currently using. I previously had three of these domains pointing to the same email account. I hadn't checked it in a while, but when I went in last week it had managed to collect 60,000 emails. I found one that was sent there by mistake, and have since found out that two or three more might also have been sent there by mistake. But that's still a hell of a lot of spam!

As a test, I set up a secondary Gmail account and set my unused domains to redirect their mail to that account. That was Friday night. I just checked the Gmail account and there are 320 pieces of spam sitting in my inbox. Which sounded like a lot, until I looked in the "Spam" folder and found out that Google nabbed 4,390 more emails that it automatically recognized as spam.

Wow. Out of 4,710 pieces of spam, only 320 (~7%) slipped past Gmail's spam filter. Kick ass! And my guess is that if I begin marking the ones that got through as spam, it will help Google's algorithms recognize even more in the future. Groovy.

Good Fire, Bad Fire

"Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you never can tell."
- Joan Crawford

This is how I feel right now. Although it is more about Life than Love.

The vast majority of negative energy in my life lately is rooted around that spontaneously combusting wall heater and the evil lawsuit that spawned from it. Thanks to that fire, my spirit is beaten and bloody, and I'm so emotionally raw that every other problem in my life seems ten times nastier as a result.

But the vast majority of my joy for the past few weeks has come from the fire of a hand made medieval kiln and the amazing group of people who built it. Thanks to them, I remember what it means to be alive, and I can muster the moxie to keep fighting the good fight.

No, you never can tell what role fire will play in your life. But the effect it has on you, overall, is much more predictable. When it burns down your house, the trauma is intense and painful in the short term, but fades over time into a buddhist-like lesson on the unimportance of physical and monetary goods. But when the fire warms your heart, that warmth is wholesome and vibrant and stays with you through the decades - an ever-present reminder of your connection to the world.

Maybe fire isn't so bad after all...

Postcards from the Underworld: Volume 1

Despite my best efforts to correct the matter, I still have far more Gmail invitations than I have people to give them to. So a few weeks ago I got bored and started surfing to see if I could find any posts that were amusing enough to follow up on.

One that caught my eye was from an Australian girl who was getting ready to go on vacation to New Zealand and was offering a postcard from each city she visited, in exchange for the Gmail account. Being the huge Aussie-phile I am, I had to respond. Today I got my first installment, so I thought I'd share it with you all.

Postcard from Sydney


Here's the first postcard of the batch. As you see, this is my hometown, Sydney. The bridge in the first panel is a footbridge that I walk across every day to get to work! I only noticed that after I bought the card, though.

Next stop is Hobart, Tasmania. I've never been there before but I hear it's very picturesque. And the main attractions are a chocolate factory and a beer factory! haha

Best wishes, Aletha

There will be several more postcards coming over the next month or two. There's also a guy in Boston who's planting an apple tree in my name, which he will be sending me pictures of. And I'm currently in touch with a guy who's offered to prove to me that Verbal Kint was not Keyser Soze, in exchange for a Gmail account.

GmailSwap amuses me.

It’s true. I can sleep through anything.

Thanks to growing up in a loud, obnoxious Italian family, I can pretty much sleep through anything. Talking, arguments, construction, alarm clocks, earthquakes... and even attacks by the Brides of Dracula.

Fennec and Rachel left this charming little snapshot for me on my own camera, as a gift. Ain't that sweet? hehehe

Ack. I had a great weekend, and am looking forward to repeating most of it next weekend. But my arms are starting to get sunburn-itchy, I'm desperately craving a shower to get the remnants of clay mud off of me, I've had The Hero of Canton running through my head all day (and no one else there had seen Firefly yet - this must be remedied!), and I'm far too tired to get anything done.

I had planned to get home relatively early this evening and catch up on emails and such. I'm up to two months behind on responding to some emails, and others are much more recent but also much more compelling of a prompt response. But any attempt to make a coherent thought tonight will be pointless. I just need to shower, apply lotion to my scratchy sunburnt skin, and give in to the Sandman.

Cutting into the heart of a cutaway illustration

Tonight, I was hoping to finish this stupid treatise on all of my pe-employment opinions on eBay's business model. And after working on it for the past three hours, I'm almost done. Just two or three more paragraphs and a bunch of proofing and it'll be ready for prime time. But I seriously need to get to sleep, so I'll have to finish it later.

In the meantime, here's something incredibly cool that I happened to run across. Maybe it's just the former aspiring architect in me, but I've always been fascinated with cutaway illustrations. Not only because they look cool, but because I marvel at how they can get that much detail assembled in scale and presented in a manner that makes sense to the non-technical viewer.

So you can imagine how cool I think this Demonstration For Cutaway Technical Illustrations is. Between the detailed info on the process that goes into building one of these illustrations and the super-detailed-zoom, this stupid site had me grinning from ear to ear. Can someone remind me again why I abandoned architecture as a career goal? Oh, right. I had yet to get my hands on AutoCAD and I sat right next to the ammonia machine for three years straight. That's enough to turn someone off of a really cool career track pretty quickly...